The Complete Plays of Jean Racine

The Complete Plays of Jean Racine: Volume 4: Athaliah

Translated into English rhymed couplets with critical notes and commentary by GEOFFREY ALAN ARGENT
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 154
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Complete Plays of Jean Racine
    Book Description:

    As Voltaire famously opined, Athaliah, Racine’s last play, is “perhaps the greatest masterwork of the human spirit.” Its formidable antagonists, Athaliah, queen of Judah, and Jehoiada, high priest of the temple of Jerusalem, are engaged in a deadly struggle for dominion: she, fiercely determined to maintain her throne and exterminate the detested race of David; he, no less fiercely determined to overthrow this heathen queen and enthrone the orphan Joash, the scion of the house of David, whom Athaliah believes she slew as an infant ten years earlier. This boy represents the sole hope for the survival of the royal race from which is to spring the Christ. But in this play, even God is more about hate and retribution than about love and mercy. This is the fourth volume of a projected translation into English of all twelve of Jean Racine’s plays—only the third time such a project has been undertaken. For this new translation, Geoffrey Alan Argent has rendered these plays in the verse form that Racine might well have used had he been English: namely, the “heroic” couplet. Argent has exploited the couplet’s compressed power and flexibility to produce a work of English literature, a verse drama as gripping in English as Racine’s is in French. Complementing the translation are the illuminating Discussion, intended as much to provoke discussion as to provide it, and the extensive Notes and Commentary, which offer their own fresh and thought-provoking insights.

    eISBN: 978-0-271-05552-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. 1-28)

    After completingPhaedra, Racine underwent a self-imposed retirement from the theater and only resumed his career as a playwright a dozen years later at the persuasive, if not peremptory, request of Madame de Maintenon, Louis XIV’s morganatic wife, who solicited a play to be performed by the schoolgirls of Saint-Cyr, the school she had recently established for daughters of the impoverished nobility. Instructed to choose a subject without a strong love interest (the schoolgirls’ performance of the too torridAndromachehad convinced their patroness of the necessity for this precaution), and probably considering a biblical subject as most appropriate to...

    (pp. 29-36)

    Everyone knows that the Kingdom of Judah was composed of the two tribes of Judah and Benjamin, and that the ten other tribes who revolted against Reboam made up the Kingdom of Israel.¹ As the kings of Judah were of the house of David, and their inheritance included the city of Jerusalem and its temple, all the priests and Levites betook themselves there and resided in the temple and its environs permanently. For since the temple of Solomon was built, it was no longer permitted to perform sacrifices anywhere else, and all those other altars to God that were set...

  6. Athaliah 1691
    (pp. 37-118)

    JOASH, King of Judah, son of Ahaziah

    ATHALIAH, widow of Jehoram, grandmother of Joash

    JEHOIADA, high priest

    JOSABETH, aunt of Joash, wife of the high priest

    ZACHARIAH, son of Jehoiada and Josabeth

    SALOMITH, sister of Zachariah

    ABNER, one of the chief officers of the King of Judah

    AZARIAH, ishmael, and the three other chiefs of the priests and Levites

    MATHAN, an apostate priest, high priest of Baal

    NABAL, confidential friend of Mathan

    HAGAR, attendant of Athaliah

    Troop of priests and Levites

    Athaliah’s guard

    Nurse of Joash

    Chorus of young girls of the tribe of Levi

    The scene is in the...

    (pp. 119-140)

    Since “history does not specify the day on which Joash was proclaimed [king of Judah],” as Racine states in his preface, he chose to set his play on Pentecost (or, more properly, the Hebrew Shavuoth), commemorating the day Moses received the Ten Commandments (the “Law”) on Mount Sinai. (The most reliable biblical scholarship has, however, established theyearas 837 b.c.) On this day, too, the people would offer up the first loaves of the new harvest to their God, as described in lines 5–12. The choice of Pentecost signals the significance of the Law in this play and,...

    (pp. 141-141)
  9. Back Matter
    (pp. 142-143)